It’s a good time to be thirsty in the Pacific Northwest. Craft distilleries, brewing small batches of spirits with locally grown ingredients, have opened all throughout the region. For a starter guide to sipping and sampling in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, read on — then raise your glass.
Vancouver has embraced the craft distilling movement in a big way this year. Thanks to recent changes in British Columbia’s liquor laws, several small-batch distilleries have already opened their doors, with more on tap for 2014. Downtown’s Long Table Distillery was the first of these in-town brewers, producing both gin and vodka in its copper pot still. Stop by the tasting room for a Friday gin-and-tonic happy hour, with snacks from a rotating roster of visiting food trucks.
On Granville Island, The Liberty Distillery emphasizes local ingredients, producing their Truth Vodka from BC-grown wheat and their Railspur No. 1 White whiskey from BC organic barley. Visitors are welcome for tours and tastings. Still thirsty? Sample the handcrafted vodka at the Yaletown Distilling Company or venture to East Vancouver to try the East Van Vodka at Odd Society Spirits. And though Sons of Vancouver Distillery isn’t officially slated to launch until late this year, it will join the aforementioned companies at BC Distilled, the region’s premier microdistillery festival, on May 10.
Five Vietnamese-American siblings set up Vinn Distillery, a Portland tasting room where you can sample unique Asian-style rice wine and spirits. Producing baijiu (rice whiskey), saké-like mijiu, and the first rice vodka made in the US, their establishment is just one of a bumper crop of spirit brewers who call this Oregon city home.
Another good place to start your sipping tour is in the Portland neighborhood lovingly dubbed “Distillery Row,” where Vinn and several other spirit makers are based. Established back in 2004, House Spirits Distillery produces gin, malt whiskey and two varieties of aquavit (Krogstad Festlig and Krogstad Gamle), while at New Deal Distillery, you can taste their chocolate vodka, ginger liqueur and other tantalizing tipples. At Eastside Distilling, sample the Portland Potato Vodka, Burnside Bourbon, and Below Deck Rums (coffee, ginger, silver and spice).
You’ll find that even more distilleries — and their tasting rooms — have opened up all across town within the past few years. In northwest Portland, Bull Run Distilling Company handcrafts small batches of vodka, rum, gin and their popular Temperance Trader Straight Bourbon Whiskey, while Clear Creek Distillery transforms Oregon-grown fruit into eaux de vie (brandy), grappas and liqueurs. With this boozy bounty across the City of Roses — and throughout the Pacific Northwest — it’s clearly time to say, “Cheers!”
In Washington, a 2008 law paved the way for small-batch distilleries to set up shop around the state, and these days, Seattle-area sippers are benefiting from the resulting craft spirits boom.
Among the city’s unique tastes, sample the unusual grape-based vodka at Glass Distillery, the Rex Velvet Sinister Spirit (vodka that gets its rosy hue from organic beets) at Fremont Mischief and the herbaceous rosemary vodka at Oola Distillery on Capitol Hill. Newcomer Copperworks Distilling Company is already earning kudos for its aromatic Copperworks Gin, while Sound Spirits, which bills itself as “Seattle’s first craft distillery since Prohibition,” also makes well-regarded spirits.
Don’t want to navigate Seattle’s distillery scene on your own? Sign up for a guided excursion with Local Craft Tours. You’ll visit several local producers (such as Fremont Mischief and Sound Spirits) with tastings, of course.
Photos Courtesy of David Donaldson-The Liberty Distillery and Jamie Francis-Travel Portland